Just like Eddie Rabbit, I love a rainy night as well. My computer and other electronics, not so much.
This time of year boasts some of the most damaging electrical storms of the year, especially in our area (Mid-Carolina Region). As it happens, we get tons of calls from customers and clients after a summer storm with complaints that their PCs or network equipment is not working. So, lets look at this briefly and hopefully we can help you should you ever find yourself in this situation.
First, lets talk about electronics and lightning in general. For simplicity we are just going to focus on a PC but the rules remain the same for almost any electronic item, particularly computers and peripherals. The components inside your PC are VERY sensitive to electricity and ESD (electrostatic discharge). You remember when you were a kid and you would dragging your socked-feet on the carpet and shock the mess out of your sibling? Have you ever exited your car in the winter and the door give you a jolt of electricity from static buildup? Well, these small lightning bolts are far more than enough to damage the internal components of your PC. On more than one occasion I’ve seen someone touch a computer case and the static shock cause the PC to shutoff. Now, imagine what a nearby lightning strike can do.
So how do you protect your PC from lightning? The absolute best way is to unplug it from the wall. TURNING THE PC OFF AND LEAVING IT PLUGGED IN IS WORTHLESS. Sorry to have to emphasize that but I hear that all the time… “but I had it turned off…”. Simply, turning it off doesn’t remove it from the circuit… UNPLUG IT.
“But what if I’m not there to unplug it?”… I’m getting to that now. Of course you’re not going to be able to unplug it every time a storm comes up… and even if you could I highly recommend a good… no… a GREAT surge protector. Come on… you spend $600 and up for your PC and peripherals and you want to protect it with a $9 power strip?
The industry standard for measuring electrical energy is Joules. A surge protector’s Joule Rating tells you how much energy the surge protector can absorb before it fails. A higher number indicates greater protection. Most good surge protectors will cost around $30 to $50 and typically come with some kind of assurance, insurance or warranty. The two best brands (in my opinion) is Tripp-Lite and APC. There are other brands which are good so you pick what you want so long as the Joule rating is high. I recommend nothing less than 2160 Joules. Remember, this is protecting a large financial investment of your electronics so don’t go cheap here.
Lastly, you find yourself faced with a PC that will not function after a storm… what do you do?
Listen carefully… once you realize the PC will not turn on, DO NOT continue trying to turn it on. You can, and most likely will, cause further damage the more you mess with it. In many cases the damage is initially rather isolated but continuing to try to turn it on allows for the damaged parts to send surges and spikes throughout the rest of the internal components which can result in a total loss of the PC… including your precious data (see our post on having a backup).
(DISCLAIMER – if your system is damaged this could cause further damage… do this at your own risk). Many times the PC is not turning on because there was a quick power cycle which put the PC in a state of flux and it was not actually hit by lightning or an electrical surge. In these cases, the PC is likely NOT damaged but just “confused”. Here is how to fix it… if this is the problem. Unplug the PC for about a minute (make it 2 to be sure). This will give the PC time to drain all the electricity stored in it’s components. While it is unplugged, check the outlet you are plugging it into to ensure it actually has power. Now, plug the PC back in and try to turn it on. If it turns on, you just saved yourself an unnecessary repair bill. If it does not turn on… DO NOT TRY AGAIN. Take it to your trusted PC repair company ( like Carolina Computer Concepts ) and allow them to test the PC with special equipment and handle the repair properly.
And for all you Eddie Rabbit fans… here ya go: